The first (I think) season of The Expanse space drama teevee show had a small sideline of something that I think I recall enough from similar fiction to be a trope. The show has the class element built into it, especially in that first season. There are rich people on the space station and poor people. The masses struggle to survive, live dirtily and envy the people living above them who they have to knuckle under to.

Resources are finite (unlike a Star Trek type of show, or even Star Wars) and of course the control of these resources is used to further oppress the masses and bend them to the will of the elite.

Well, one of those resources in this particular show is oxygen.

A pretty big deal, of course, when the only known place with an excess of this element that is essential to life is back on Earth. Now, perhaps in some space drama situations the supply of air IS like the trolley problem. A very direct sort of “If I get the oxygen, you die and vice versa” does pop up but usually this is within the trope of self-sacrifice. Like Jack and Rose and that damn door in the Titanic blockbuster.

But the better situation is the one in The Expanse where the rich people could just sort of lean out the oxygen for the poor people. Yeah, I’m not entirely sure how that sort of thing is pulled off in a space station but whatever. Go with it. The show sets it up as a class control issue I seem to recall, but it could very well be one of limited resources. On the space station, what happens if oxygen becomes a truly limited resource? Are the powerful going to keep themselves in normal operation even if they have to starve the powerless to do it?

Have you ever lived at altitude for a few days? The mile high in Denver sucks badly enough. When you first get there, you are…weak. You aren’t dying or anything. You can live and do stuff. You just suck at it. You can’t walk briskly up a staircase like you could at sea level. You can’t even think all that well, frankly. And if you have a condition that further compromises your oxygen uptake? Yikes. Could be very painful and nauseating.

Or maybe you went to Denver on the plane and then drove straight up to the mountains and had to operate at two miles up. Say, at a Keystone meeting or a Winter Brain, right peeps? At this point, shit is getting real. And many otherwise healthy folks are feeling really, really bad.

They don’t die though. For the most part. Unless there are exacerbating health conditions. If you sent some people to Keystone Colorado to live for awhile, so that you and your buddies could have the same amount of oxygen you are used to at sea level, it’s not like you are pulling the lever on the trolley track switch to make it run over someone else. They aren’t going to die.

You are just, well, making it suck for them.

Getting back to the space station drama, we reach another nasty little consideration. What if, just suppose, what IF, the rich people were knowingly overpopulating the space station so they’d have plenty of workers competing for scraps. Then nobody would be comfortable enough to come after the rich, they spend all their time just surviving. And the middle class is kept in a precarious enough situation that they don’t want to rock the boat lest their subsistance, semi-comfortable amount of oxygen might be scaled back. I mean that happens right? It happened just last month and I’m sure it was all a mistake and the Governor of the whole place wasn’t really trying to rein in the feisty Professors…


Did I give away the game?